Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.
Genesis 12:10-20 | ESV
Famine in the land.
Famine in the promised land.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Whatever it is, it’s quite clearly catching, because it consistently shows up on the screen of our lives as well. How could there be famine – a big old pot of nothing at the end of the rainbow? Now even Abram no doubt begins to believe the taunt of those watching his story: “Look at this old man! Traveling through the country, looking like a madman!”
Yes, this is absurd! This is mad! What am I doing here? What was I thinking?
This is another crossroads every journey of faith encounters – except for those who lie about it. And Abram was good at that too. Lying, that is. “God can’t even provide grass for my flocks or food for my table, so how can I trust him to protect me as we go down to Egypt to find food?”
It only made sense to go there. And it only made sense to have his wife lie about her marital status. They’re godless people anyway and they don’t deserve the full truth. Wise as a snake, harmless as a dove, yes?
Oh yes, it only made sense.
It didn’t help matters that it worked – Abram became even wealthier as Pharaoh lined his pockets for the beautiful new addition to the royal harem – and Sarai was returned, no worse for the wear, right? (Curiously, Sarai has no lines in this part of the story. Just what was that reunion like as Abram tallied the profits?) Yes, Abram would have to remember this little move. (And he would. And so would his yet-to-be-born son.)
Yes, it is a mixture, this whole faith and sight business. We are a mixed bag, all of us. Which is perhaps the greatest miracle of all, for it would appear that it is in just such a profoundly human, mixed bag of faith and sight, truth and falsehood, good and evil, that the invisible God becomes the most visible after all.
Where has “Egypt” been in your life? In what ways has it made sense at the time? What have been your takeaways from your time there?
Unseen God, thank you for showing yourself even when I run for the presumed safety of the seen and the known. Thank you for meeting me in plenty and in famine, in your truth and in my half-truth. And, by your mercies, let me learn to aim higher. Through Christ.
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Genesis 12:4-9 | ESV
“Is there a man who travels without knowing to what destination he travels? A journey without apparent destination: absurdity at each step. The midrash gives us mocking voices that weave through Abram’s consciousness as he travels: ‘Look at this old man! Traveling through the country, looking like a madman!’” ~ Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Absurdity at each step.
Yes, that pretty well captures this journey of faith. It just makes no sense. Abram’s setting out in obedience to God’s “Lekh lekha” (translation: GET GOING!) marks the first time in the Genesis story a journey is taken not as a punishment or exile (Adam and Eve setting out from the garden, Cain setting out for the land of Nod, Babel’s builders scattering to the ends of the earth) but as a response to “a divine imperative that articulates and emphasizes displacement as its crucial experience” (Zornberg, again).
There is a radical displacement at the heart of all real faith.
Far from hunkering down into a bunker, faith flings us out into the world. And as we are flung, we will encounter absurdity at each step. Abram and Sarah boarded a plane with no clear destination – it will land somewhere! Absurd divine travel agent. But at least they got to pack – Jesus didn’t even let the twelve disciples do that.
You get a sense of Abram and Sarah setting out, heading this way, and then that, wondering, “So is this the place? Or how about this?” “God made me wander from my father’s house,” Abraham says, years later (Genesis 20:13). And so he wandered from place to place, “not knowing where he was going.” Until the invisible God appeared, revealing not only himself but this place as the destination, and for the first time he builds an altar, sacramentally marking the spot.
The rest of his life will be spent wandering about this land building altars and digging wells (though there would be at least one significant detour), an exalted father with no children passing through the property of others as a homeless man claiming his non-existent kids would one day own it all. Yes, absurdity at each step.
Perhaps it should give us pause if we are commended at each turn for our wise and considered steps, if no one ever yells at us, “Look at that old man! Traveling through the country, looking like a madman!”
For faith is spelled “r-i-s-k” and its surname is “absurdity.”
When is the last time someone called you “mad” because of your faith? What is the difference between the “absurdity” of faith and true folly and madness? How do you personally and practically balance this all out in your own walk of faith?
Unseen God, let me not fear being thought a fool and absurd for stepping out in faith when you call; teach me the difference between the “folly” of faith that risks it all, and my own foolish presumptions. Give me the boldness to take some really absurd steps with you today. Through Christ.